The Marvels needed an original song.
It was 1961, and the group of five girls — Georgia Dobbins, Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Tillman, Wyanetta (“Juanita”) Cowart, and Katherine Anderson – from Inkster High School near Detroit had gotten an audition with the fledgling Motown Records. Dobbins knew a blues songwriter named William Garrett who had a half-finished tune that he was willing to let them have. Dobbins took the song and reworked it. A couple of other Motown people also worked on the song.
By the time it was recorded, Horton had replaced Dobbins as the lead singer and Wanda Young had joined the group as one of the background singers. Providing the background for the song was a group of local musicians (later known as the Funk Brothers) that included drummer Marvin Gaye.
The song was “Please, Mr. Postman,” and told the sad story of a girl awaiting a letter from “that boyfriend of mine” who asks the postman to check his bag “to see is there a letter in your bag for me.” The song ends with no card or letter being delivered. The recording that the girls did — Motown originator Berry Gordy had decided to rename them The Marvelettes — was loose and a bit ragged, but it had a driving beat and enough pathos mixed with a little humor to make it appealing.
It turned out to be appealing beyond anything that anyone at Motown imagined.
The song was released on August 28, 1961, hopped onto the national Billboard charts and climbed steadily. By December 11, it held the number one spot. It was the first time that a Motown record had made it to the top of the pop chart; the record also climbed to the top of the R&B chart. It stayed in the top 40 for 23 weeks and eventually sold more than a million copies.
The song was also a breakthrough for the growing number of all-girl singing groups, being one of the first recordings to rise to the top.
The Marvelettes, with an almost constantly changing cast of characters, recorded many more songs during the next decade, but none of them had the impact of “Please, Mr. Postman.” They soon had to compete with many other girl groups, some non-Motown such as The Ronettes and The Chiffons and some from Motown itself such as Martha and the Vandellas. All of those groups had their moments, but they were eventually swamped by hit after monster hit from another Motown creation, The Supremes.
“Please, Mr. Postman” took on a life of its own. The Beatles included it on their album Meet the Beatles, and in 1975 a recording of the song by The Carpenters made the top of the pop charts.
Today, the song is a regular on radio stations playing classic rock and roll, and it still has the power to get your hands clapping.
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